The Mantra of Not Causing Harm
Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.” It is one of the principal ethical precepts that I –and all health care professionals throughout the world- was being taught in school. This fundamental principle reminds me over and over again to consider the possible harm that any intervention might do.
Mindful eating is often perceived as a “soft intervention” where no elements in the program carry an obvious risk of harm. I’m not so sure about this statement. Maybe the mindfulness meditations itself are beneficial, however the skills and mindset of a mindful eating teacher will play a pivotal role how the teachings are transmitted.
Since a couple of years some health professionals have started using “mindful eating” as an intervention to lose weight and as hidden form of restrictive eating (dieting). As a health professional and mindful eating teacher since 2009, I’ve seen many clients having a hateful relationship with their larger bodies. However, from health perspective they were in a perfect condition. While those with so called normal size had, due to extreme dieting (to maintain their weight), several deficiencies, osteoporosis or hormonal imbalance.
One of the main reasons why I’m against combining mindful eating with a focus on weight, is the initial intention set by the teacher. Basically one says: “There is something wrong with you (your body, weight, appearance)”. How unethical and harmful is this way of thinking! Mindful eating is about acceptance of oneself in this very moment, being non-judgmental and not striving towards a certain outcome. While a weight focus is the complete opposite.
If we look at reviews and cohort studies, researchers are puzzled about what is now called the ‘obesity paradox’. It seems that people with larger bodies have a better life expectancy than their peers within a normal weight range, especially in conditions where diabetes type 2, heart failure and osteoporosis are involved. Thus, what prevents us then from accepting everybody, each person’s specific DNA and unique way of metabolizing food and energy?
Mindful eating is about relieving suffering and not causing harm to those who are seeking help. One of the most painful experiences for human beings is being excluded and stigmatized for a certain condition. The consequence of this shame-based approach leads to more guilt, self-doubt and low self-esteem. Three aspects which doesn’t bring us any closer to our true nature and finding happiness.
The Mindful Eating, Conscious Living training is developed as a journey to learn a new and intimate relationship with the person who is day and night there, yourself. Mindful eating is not about food or size, it is all about living life in its full brightness.
What C. Rogers wrote in ‘On becoming a Person’, resonates deeply within me. “We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”
Caroline Baerten, Brussels Belgium